On the last day of the year, the COVID pandemic is ending 2021 with a bang: health authorities around the world have confirmed more than 1.2M new cases in the 24 hours to Thursday – a new record.
The US also booked a new record of its own, with 355.9K new cases, dragging the 7-day average to a new record high as well.
Data on hospitalizations and deaths shows hospitals in the US still have plenty of ICU beds available, although there are some areas where the outbreak is more intense. An uptick in vaccinations has put the US rate north of 63% in terms of those deemed “fully vaccinated” (a definition that may soon change). Deaths in the US have actually slowed in recent weeks.
While the number of canceled flights has declined, 1,125 flights were scrubbed Friday as rising coronavirus cases hobbled airline staffing. Winter storms threatened to further disrupt travel over New Year’s weekend. JetBlue scratched 175 flights, accounting for 17% of its schedule, by 1620ET on Thursday, according to FlightAware.com. Allegiant canceled 96 flights, or 19% of its service. United Airlines scrubbed 199 flights, representing 9% of its schedule.
Just weeks after the FDA approved the Pfizer pill Paxlovid, which can supposedly treat COVID in high-risk patients if taken within a few days of the onset of symptoms, Britain’s regulator, the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency, has followed suit.
The decision comes just weeks after British regulators approved a similar medication produced by Merck.
As COVID cases surge and hospitalizations start to overwhelm the NHS, Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s government races to build an armory of weapons against the resurgent pandemic.
BoJo used his New Year message to urge any British holdouts to go and get their booster shots, as growing pressure on the UK National Health Service threatens to undermine his strategy to get through the omicron wave.
As cases flare in Southeast Asia, Singapore is extending its testing regime for travelers arriving via its quarantine-free vaccinated travel lanes for another four weeks, according to the Ministry of Health. Hong Kong, meanwhile, will require visitors to some restaurants and recreational venues like cinemas and gyms to have at least one vaccine dose before the Lunar New Year.
South Korea said its newly strengthened social distancing rules will remain in place for at least two more weeks. The restrictions, which ban private gatherings of five or more people and close restaurants and coffee shops at 2100 local time were reinstated in mid-December as daily cases hit a record.
Back in North America, Quebec is bringing back its controversial overnight curfew beginning Friday at 2200 local time and continuing through 0500 the next day. Dining rooms at restaurants will also be closed but take-out and delivery will, as usual, be allowed to continue.
Finally, for all its efforts, the Australian government has failed to prevent a surge in COVID cases. New South Wales, Australia’s most populous state, reported on Friday a record 21.2K new cases in the past 24 hours, a 73% increase compared with a day earlier, though hospitalization numbers rose more modestly.